The Future of Reproduction

designer-babyLast week the New America Foundation hosted a conference on “The Future of Reproduction” in Washington, D.C. Despite a few exceptions, the event was pretty much one large cheerleading session in praise of reproductive technology.

A few highlights:

Dan Kois, co-Host of “Mom and Dad Are Fighting,” Slate’s parenting podcast, offered praise of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) as a potential way of creating “a more perfect American vox populi.” If anyone has any doubt that PGD is meant to weed out imperfect or less desirable children, just ponder Kois’s words for a moment. Sadly, no one seemed to object.

Debora Spar, President of Barnard College and author of The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, offered a wonderful insight that the fertility industry is the only business in America that wants to disavow the fact that it’s a lucrative enterprise. Most businesses are eager to boast of their financial successes, so could it be that the fertility industry knows that there’s something unsettling about the buying and selling of eggs, sperm, and wombs?

The final panel of the day—which brought some much-needed sobriety to the event—was moderated by Christine Rosen of The New Atlantis. Rosen rightfully called out former panelists for assuming these technologies are morally neutral and for simply pushing for more time for them to be become accepted by the public at large.

Jane Maienschein of the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University and Marcy Darnovsky, of the Center for Genetics and Society, also reminded the audience not to forget our history. There are frightening parallels between the eugenics movements of the past with some of the uses of these technologies today.

Darnovsky also took the occasion to challenge Rebecca Sokol, President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, for the organization’s lack of teeth in enforcing some of its recommendations for ASRM recommended practitioners.

For an event that was dedicated to discussing the “Future of Reproduction” there was little discussion of the children that would result from all of this. Videos from each of the sessions can be viewed here. They might one day be used as evidence when these children are questioning aspects of their conception or suffering from some of the known health risks that accompany the practices of IVF, anonymous gamete donation, and surrogacy.

Regrettably, those of us who are skeptical of reproductive technology will have to look back and say to those panelists urging us to move full speed ahead: we told you so.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Christopher White is the Director of Education and Programs for the Center for Bioethics and Culture.